The Unlikely Inspiration Behind Anne Boleyn’s Commanding Costumes

From the Prada headband to a painted pea, costume designer Lynsey Moore tells all.

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“This version of Anne Boleyn is strong,” explains costume designer Lynsey Moore. “She wants to be seen and heard.” It is a simple and precise way to explain Channel 5’s Anne Boleyn, really. Starring Jodie Turner-Smith, the three-part drama explores the final months of the eponymous queen’s life, told from her perspective, with women at the forefront of the production. Challenging the norms of period dramas before it, Moore’s role was crucial: turning the well-known Tudor tropes of frills, furs, and corsets on their head without being too alienating. “I knew Jodie’s performance would command attention, so I wanted the outfits to do the same,” she tells me.

As a contemporary costume designer with series like I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum under her belt, taking on a period drama in the middle of a pandemic could have been a terrifying feat, but Moore took it in her stride. “When I met Lynsey [Miller, the director] she was on a similar page to me, and she wanted to create something a bit different,” she says. “This is a fresh perspective, from a different angle, and design-wise a chance for us to present something new for a contemporary audience. But obviously, this is a time period. A lot of research went into it, but also, because we decided that it was going to be contemporary, it's not shackled too much by historical accuracy.”

Here, costume designer Lynsey Moore walks us through the hidden meanings behind the Anne Boleyn costumes and tells us how she helped reinvent the Tudor queen.

On the hidden meaning behind the colour palette

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“The colour palette was inspired by two tapestries – one at Hampton Court Palace, and another at the V&A – that production designer Lucy [Spink] had found. Some parts of them have aged terribly, so the colours are very faded – beautiful but washed out – and then some bits are still quite acidic and bright. And then you've got all the dark shadow tones, so together they formed the basis of my colour palette.

The focus in this production is that for once, it's not about Henry VIII, it's not about the men: it's about the women. So, the men are on the outside of our focus as an audience, almost. They are the black tones, the dark shadows, and their costumes are not really to be noticed at all. Anne has her in a circle of the women around her – her ladies in waiting – and they’re in these kind of faded, beautiful washed-out tones.

Then you've got these acidic bright jewel tones that capture the eye in Anne's wardrobe: she needs to be the centre of focus. The idea is that the audience’s eye is always drawn to exactly where it needs to be.”

On the boon of filming during a pandemic

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“It wasn’t a conscious decision to go without embroidery or intricate trimmings [as you would expect from other Tudor-themed dramas], I was just focused on colour, cut, and silhouette at the start. But every time I tried to add a trim or embroidery, it felt like it dulled down the costumes and what was striking about them. We also really didn’t really have the time for it, in the end. We started filming just on the cusp of the second lockdown, and there was a quick decision that this shoot was suddenly just going to happen. So we had five weeks to prepare, which for a period drama is unheard of!

“I wasn’t going to be able to achieve that kind of embroidery and the level of intricacy, so I decided to trust my gut and go with it. I think if I’d had more time or resources, I don't think I would have been as brave.”

How necessity turned out to be the mother of (corset) invention

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Turner-Smith welcomed daughter Janie Jackson in 2020, and was breastfeeding whilst on set, which – with period costumes in particular – could have been quite a challenge. “It takes a long time to lace people in,” Moore explains, “but Jodie was breastfeeding throughout the day, so it meant her costumes needed to be able to enter from the front. So I asked myself how we could use this to our advantage, and rethink all the costumes – not just Jodie’s. We didn't have the money – or time – to have multiple dresses made and fitted, so in a way, that one requirement led the whole concept down a different route.

It meant that all the ladies in waiting have one style of dress, with interchangeable pieces that can make it look different according to the scene’s needs, which in the end was ideal because it was a very short shoot and we didn’t have time for much else.”

On switching up the iconic ‘B’ necklace

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“Anne doesn’t have many pieces of jewellery, but the few she has are key. I re-designed the ‘B’ necklace to have a rougher, unpolished edged, crafting it from beaten metal and replacing the pearl droplets with metal ones.

Using pieces of jewellery that were much more striking, angular, and severe, played up to the essence of a character: Anne’s strength and determination in a male-driven world.”

On the unlikely inspiration for those headbands

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“I was looking at things like the Prada headbands, and how actually flattering the dimensions were and where it sat. Combined with French hoods – which Anne Boleyn actually brought into fashion from France – and they made the perfect silhouette and frame for the face when brought down to the cheekbone.

That shape was important because I wanted to play with scale to keep the women at the forefront. Usually, in Tudor scenes, it is Henry VIII who draws the eye – because he is king, but also because of his scale – but here we are flipping that.

All the women had the same shape headband – apart from Jane Seymore, because Lola [Petticrew] is so petite, it just needed a different points and corners. But again, that was another very quick decision.”

On the curious case of the pea-shaped earring

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“We had these earrings on Lizzie Brown [Countess of Worcester, played by Isabella Laughland] that each had a green misshapen pearl, and just before we had to do a reshoot, one of the pearls went missing. We couldn't find it anywhere, and because it wasn’t perfectly round, finding something else that we could use as a replacement proved rather difficult.

One hour to go before the shoot, just as the crew were having lunch, a single pea rolled off from my friend’s fish and chips and onto my desk. And I thought: ‘Could we?’ I got a paintbrush out, painted it, and threaded it on the earring. We've got a photo of it in the jewellery box and you would never know the difference!”

Anne Boleyn begins on June 1 on Channel 5 at 9 p.m.